Put into position, Polley prevails Seminole: His mom made the first move, getting Tommy Polley to Dunbar. He has taken it from there, rising to starting linebacker at Florida State.

October 02, 1998|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

Amy Polley recalled the afternoon more than a dozen years ago when the oldest of her three sons came back to their home in Harford County from a punt-pass-and-kick competition.

"He was 7 years old and he was carrying a big trophy," she said recently. "I still have it."

It was four years later when Polley, a single parent, decided to move her family from Aberdeen onto North Castle Street in East Baltimore. It was a move that would help eliminate her commute to Johns Hopkins Hospital.

It was also a move designed to get her son, Tommy, an aspiring football and basketball star, the kind of competition and attention that might someday help him earn a college scholarship.

"It was the best thing for myself and my family," said Amy Polley, a clinical data coordinator in the bone marrow transplant unit at ,, Hopkins. "I don't think Tommy would have gotten noticed living out there."

Still, it took her son's talents on the basketball court at Dunbar High School to help him wind up where he is now: as the starting strong-side linebacker on a ninth-ranked Florida State team that will play Maryland in College Park tomorrow.

"We found out about him through one of the basketball coaches [at Florida State]," said Chuck Amato, the Seminoles' assistant head coach and Polley's position coach. "He had never seen a basketball player so tough."

The two sports were long entwined in Polley's athletic persona. At Dunbar, he was twice selected by The Sun as All-Metro in basketball, twice in football as the All-Metro defensive player of the year and once, in 1996, as the best male high school athlete in Baltimore.

Polley envisioned playing both sports at Florida State.

"My full intention was to play both," Polley, 20, said this week by telephone from Tallahassee. "But when I got down here, things didn't work out in basketball. I knew football was my better sport. A lot of people back home still think of me as a basketball player, but I'm a football player now."

Not that things have always gone according to plan in football either.

Early frustration

Though told during the recruiting process that he would likely be redshirted as a freshman and play mostly on special teams as a sophomore, Polley figured that would change once he got onto the practice field.

It didn't happen.

"It was really tough my freshman year," said Polley, now a redshirt sophomore. "You just want to be given a chance and I wasn't. It really hurt. Now I look at the freshmen and I see what they're going through."

Polley also knows something else. "All the guys I played behind are in the NFL," he said.

Amato and Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden saw Polley's potential while recruiting him and while using him on the scout team as a freshman. But it took one memorable scrimmage at the end of two-a-days last year for the coaches to pencil in Polley as a future starter.

"He just jumped out at you," said Bowden. "He just kept making play after play."

Said Amato: "It was against the first-team offense. He and his sidekick [middle linebacker Brian Allen] kind of stole the show."

As a backup to Lamont Green as a redshirt freshman last season, Polley finished with 21 tackles (13 solo) and made one sack. He also blocked a punt that resulted in a touchdown. But the performances he gave against Duke (six tackles, including the sack) and Miami (five tackles) helped solidify his future as a Seminole.

TV gem, then a pop

With Green moved to the inside this season, Polley took over at an outside linebacker spot. He got noticed by a national television audience in Florida State's season-opening 23-14 win over Texas A&M in the Kickoff Classic in East Rutherford, N.J. He made seven tackles (five solo) and also recovered a fumble.

But in practice the next week, Polley felt a slight pop in his hamstring.

"I dressed for the N.C. State game, but it was still pretty sore in warm-ups and I didn't want to reinjure it or hurt the team by playing," said Polley, who would watch the Wolfpack's 24-7 upset of the Seminoles in Raleigh. "It was a helpless feeling. I can't say we would have won had I played, but I could have helped."

Polley returned to the field the following week, but has yet to be the force he was against the Aggies. He made seven tackles in victories over Duke and Southern Cal. He said Monday that the hamstring was "95 percent." Then again, Polley will have special incentive going into the Maryland game.

While Amy Polley has made it to all four games this season, and brothers Antoine and Dwayne have accompanied their mother to a couple themselves, it will mark the first time Tommy Polley has played before many of his friends and family members. Tommy Polley has spent the week collecting tickets from teammates.

"I think there'll be about 60 or 70," he said.

The Dunbar days

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